Steubenville, Ohio has been abuzz with news of an alleged gang rape cover-up. Sheriff Fred Abdalla confronted protesters demanding the truth about the case and justice for the victim on Saturday.
"I'm not going to stand here and try to convince you that I'm not the bad guy. You've already made your minds up," Abdalla said from the foot of the Jefferson County Courthouse, according to Reuters.
Approximately 1,000 protesters demanded that more students be charged in connection with the rape, given the various tweets, posts, and a video showing students laughing about the rape that was posted online. The group, led by Anonymous, criticized police for not doing their job and charging those students as well.
Right now, Ma'lik Richmond and Trenton Mays, both 16, stand accused of raping a fellow student at a party in August. They were arrested but released to house arrest to await trial, which begins on Feb. 13. The victim, still unnamed, has received death threats from members of the community, and has police protection 24 hours a day.
"It's a disgusting video," Abdalla responded when asked about the footage of students talking and laughing about the assault. "It's stupidity, but you can't arrest somebody for being stupid."
The protest then took an even more personal tone, as one-by-one, protesters were allowed to address the crowd via a microphone and raised platform.
"Some called for Abdalla and other local officials to step down from office," Reuters reported.
Others shared their own stories of abuse, and still more simply expressed their hope for justice. Abdulla told Reuters he stood by his decision and would not charge anyone else with a crime in this case. "People have got their minds made up. A case like this, who would want to cover any of it up?" he asked.
In order to diffuse some of the rising tension in the community, and across the nation, the City of Steubenville has established a website dedicated to reporting the truth on the matter.
"When people are saying that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case," City Manager Cathy Davison told the Associated Press. "They went by the book. Everything was handled in an above-board fashion to make sure that the case can benefit from the fullest extent of the law."
"Steubenville is a fantastic place to live, work and play," Davison added. "We have warm and loving people here, and this incident could be anywhere in America or the country or the world, and it's really unfortunate that it's tarnishing the city's reputation."